With the real-life MotoGP series enduring an indefinite hiatus, the new official game of the series – MotoGP 20 – is here to save motorcycle fans from weekend boredom. Coming just ten-and-a-half months after MotoGP 19, the latest Grand Prix racing video game aims to build on a promising platform, adding a revised career mode, new historical elements and trick new fuel consumption and tyre wear modelling.
Upgraded handling physics are also part of the package, now edging into the realms of simulation. Oh, and of course, all of the 2020 bikes, liveries and riders are present across the main class and supporting Moto2 and Moto3 categories. On paper, this could finally be the year MotoGP elevates itself from ‘solid if uninspiring’ to ‘really rather good’. Let’s find out.
Things start off well, with slick presentation through the stylish menus, much-improved rider likenesses and detailed pre-race garage, and grid scenes featuring engineer discussions and mechanics shrugging. Small details, but they add a pizzazz that has been largely lacking from this series.
With 22 circuits available to race on – all the 2020 tracks plus Donington Park and Laguna Seca as historic locations – you certainly aren’t short of choice. As soon as you start riding, you’ll also notice that the representations are the best yet seen in a Milestone-developed game. Additional track-side details, updated curbing and natural-looking asphalt add to the authenticity.
The first time you try a full-fat MotoGP bike it will take you by surprise. In a move I’ve been anticipating for quite some time, the way the motorcycle stops, turns and puts the power down feels a lot more realistic, a world away from the dull, but safe, corner-entry understeer I’ve become so accustomed to. Slowing things down, in particular, requires a delicate touch, with a gradual easing off the brake as the corner entry approaches to prevent the rear wheel from lifting, or worse, your rider falling in a rag-doll fashion.
Whilst making the braking tougher than an AGV helmet will appeal to those who like a more serious experience – namely me – none of the assists help enough in this area for those who want some lighter racing. Sure, traction control and anti-wheely control do their thing upon corner exit, but on the fastest bikes, I suspect accessibility could be an issue. What rubs the salt into the wounds a little is that the rival AI competitors seem to stop their bikes with relative ease.
Alongside the new handling, you need to balance the asymmetrical tyre wear and fuel consumption. Before a race, you can now select tyre compounds to your liking, each with different wear rates, and the amount of fuel to put in the bike, which you manage by switching between different fast and economical engine modes.
Unfortunately, the fuel economy is something that needs to be optimised in-game, as at the Valencia circuit I somehow consumed four laps worth of fuel in just half a lap on the most powerful engine mode. I had to add 14 laps of fuel and use the lowest engine mode to finish the 6 lap race!
The AI was similarly off, as on the ‘Hard’ difficulty level you can be two-three seconds quicker than all rivals in Moto2 and Moto3, and trust me, I’m no Sete Gibernau. On the same setting, you’ll be struggling at the back of the pack on a MotoGP bike.
We understand that an upcoming patch highlights AI and fuel improvements, but as of the time of this review, both areas lack finesse.
As usual, it’s the Career mode that will once again take up most of your time in the game, letting you start from the bottom in the junior formulae as I like to do, or jumping straight into the top class. New for this season is the ability to appoint a manager and assign team members on development duties across various upgradable performance areas. You need to balance income with wage expenditure, plus decide where to allocate your development points which are accrued through research between race events.
The Career team management element isn’t explained well enough initially, making the allocation of members for research or development harder to understand than Guy Martin being interviewed pre-race. Once you finally understand the process, sadly the upgrade trees are not detailed enough and the whole process becomes perfunctory. F1 2019 managed to be both more detailed and user friendly. Speaking of which, riders do not progress through the ranks alongside you, nor do they retire.
Livery editing is an area where Milestone have found an intriguing way to innovate amidst the choppy waters of licensing deals. Real teams like Ducati are still limited to their official liveries, though you can always put a splash of pink on your rider’s outfit to stand out. However, alongside these are pre-made fictional teams that give you a little control. You can’t create a livery from scratch, the main stripe and sponsors remain the same, but you can tweak some of the colours and elements to customise the design. It’s limited, but a nice touch.
Notable by their absence are the Red Bull Rookies Cup and electric MotoE that were introduced in MotoGP 19. Perhaps as a consequence of the game release being earlier in the year, these will be added in May and June respectively. Personally I’d like to see these be fully integrated into the career somehow for 2021.
Historic mode, utilising renowned riders and motorcycles from the annals of time, now has a new structure that can be described as FIFA Ultimate Team but for motorbikes. You select from three set scenarios separated by their difficulty and receive ‘diamonds’ for completing challenges that can then be spent on classic riders. After a race, three random items to buy are revealed, each with a scarcity rating. The Historic section is refreshing as it tries to innovate, but ultimately the new collecting system masks the re-use of existing content and it becomes a bit of a drag.
Pre-release, online gameplay was stable, giving MotoGP 20 a much better starting point than last year’s game. This will need to be the case if real MotoGP riders start using this game of live eSports events in lieu of real competition. While it’s smooth, the options are pretty basic: public lobby, private lobby or director match. There’s no quick-race option, no weekly or monthly online challenges, no XP or levels to progress through and no skill matchmaking. There’s nothing wrong with an ice cream cone, but I’d take a 99 with a Flake, bits and sauce over a plain one every time.